Do I really need to remove wallpaper? Can’t I just paint over it?

We walked into the house and encountered a scene straight out of 1965. 

Floral print in the kitchen.

Floral print in the bedroom.

Floral print in the bathroom. 

Floral print was in virtually every room, bumping up against the edges of old carpet and windows that undoubtedly featured floral print curtains at some point 40 or 50 years ago.

Homeowners that buy or move into a new home built in the last 10 or 20 years seldom worry about removing outdated wallpaper. 

But if you inherit a home or buy an older one, old wallpaper is a genuine concern: the older the house, the more your plans for stripping and repainting matter. 

(Unless you like floral print.)

Yes, you can paint over wallpaper. No, you probably shouldn’t.

You can paint over wallpaper. The upsides to this seem clear:

  • It’s easier than removing wallpaper
  • There’s no risk of damaging the drywall
  • You won’t accidentally reveal any damage the drywall is covering (ignorance is bliss, right?)
  • And you don’t have to steam, scrape, scrub, or peel your way through decades of adhesive.

It is only sometimes the right solution. 

If the wallpaper is less than 15 years old and you intend to redo the space later anyway, yes, you can paint the wallpapered walls. 

Maybe you’re a new couple moving into your first house. You have a spare bedroom that needs painting, don’t mind that the wallpaper has a slight texture, and recognize you might turn that into a baby’s room soon. So they paint over wallpaper to save time amid all the new-home bustle. 

Painting the wallpaper reduces the cost and hassle now and punts the work of removing it until later. You make one paint project go by a little faster, only to make the next paint job twice as hard.

But there are exceptions to every rule. Painting over wallpaper may also be better if you suspect removing it might damage the drywall. If you can’t afford the time-consuming process of hiring a general contractor to help repair or replace drywall, you can paint over it.

We know what you’re thinking: If you have some small damaged areas of wallpaper, like a single corner starting to peel away, yes, you can attempt to repair that piece and paint over all of it. 

But just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Our pro painters are never going to recommend patching over any problems. We’re in the business of longevity.

Removing the existing wallpaper gives you longevity

If the wallpaper is over 15 years old, you should remove it. For several good reasons:

  • There could be multiple layers of wallpaper hidden underneath.
  • Peeling wallpaper is problematic as it ages, which will bring your new paint off it.
  • You’ll get better results from your paint with fewer visible seams, less visible patterns, and a smooth, professional cover on the wall.
  • The wallpaper may look fine now, but the paint’s moisture can reduce the adhesive’s efficiency and cause it to tear away.

Know, too, that once you paint over any wallpaper you’ll have added another layer to a thickening set of problems. Even one coat of paint can forever seal the seams together. That might sound great, but it will cause more problems later when you try to remove it. Once you start pulling at painted wallpaper, you’ll likely pull off a layer of drywall. 

If you plan to stay in your home for a while—or don’t want to risk being cursed by future buyers of your home—just remove it now. It’s the best choice for everyone now and in the future.

Quick steps to remove wallpaper

We’ve talked before about how to remove wallpaper, but briefly:

  1. Make a spray solution of warm water. Steam can also help.
  2. Using a sheetrock knife and scraper, gently pluck away at the corners until you can pull the wallpaper by hand. Usually this is enough to remove wallpaper in large chunks along the seams.
  3. Don some protective gear like an N95 mask and start sanding the walls and pay attention to rough spots and dirt. This prep work is important!
  4. Use spackling compound to patch in rough spots and nail holes.
  5. Apply a thin layer of primer after it’s dry and clean. 
  6. Then paint the wall.

Consider an oil-based primer to help paint stick to gummy walls

Sometimes when stripping wallpaper you’ll uncover gobs of glue and adhesive. The prior installers could have glommed it on there, or moisture may have caused it to collect in clumps over time.

Other times, it’ll seem the wallpaper adhesive has become bonded to the very soul of your home’s walls. This seal may be hard to break, even after sanding. Plaster walls are porous and the gummy, tacky feel may linger.

An oil-based primer sealer can help resolve this. A good sealer coats the wall and protects the paint from moisture that might seem in from the other side of the walls.

Let us help by removing wallpaper for you

We’re not fans of painting over wallpaper. Unless there are unusual circumstances, we’re likely to start a paint only after it’s removed. We will gladly help you remove it and restore your walls with a fresh coat of beautiful new paint. 

Our pro painters have extensive experience removing wallpaper quickly and efficiently. After ten minutes of watching our guys work, you’ll be glad you hired someone to do the job.